Things to do in the Sahara Desert
The Sahara Desert is, without question, our favourite region of Morocco. It may look as if there’s nothing but sand and sky but there’s a surprising number of things to do in the Sahara Desert. Any anyway, what more do you want from a desert? If you’re preparing for a trip to Morocco and the Sahara isn’t on your itinerary, we beg you to reconsider. In fact, we’d recommend you cut down your plans for Marrakech so you can spend more than a couple of nights in the desert.
The desert doesn’t necessarily have any stand-out attractions other than the obvious sand dunes. For us, the desert itself is the attraction. It’s just magical. The Sahara Desert is one of the most authentic areas you’ll travel to in Morocco. Sure there’s people trying to earn a living from tourists but their way of life isn’t seen anywhere else in Morocco. The desert towns are dusty, compact and basic in their amenities but captivate the imagination like nowhere else.
Simply wandering around a desert town and the dunes is the best way to experience it, and maybe fall in love with it as we did.
Things to do in the Sahara Desert
Sleep in the Sahara, the desert of dreams
Sleeping in the desert, under a million stars! I just can’t describe the experience and do it justice. Just do it. Watching the sunrise and sunset from a tented camp will leave you in awe of the natural beauty of the largest desert in the world. Arranging a trip to the Sahara Desert in Morocco is easy if you don’t have you own transport. If you do, what are you waiting for?
Start planning: How to get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco
Take a camel train ride
It’s quite normal to take a camel ride to your overnight campsite if you’re on an arranged tour. They’re not the most comfortable animals to ride and your guide will always be walking alongside the camel train. But it’s a must do once in your life. Once you arrive in the desert, there’s no shortage of people offering to take you on a trek. Because of this, it’s far cheaper to arrange your trek when you arrive. But don’t forget to haggle. Hard!
Ride a quad bike through the dunes
If you’re driving your own vehicle, you’ll find it almost impossible to get big trucks or heavily loaded 4wds to the top of the highest dunes. Hiring a powerful and lightweight quad is a fun way to play in the Sahara dunes. 1 and 2 hour trips are easily arranged but they can be expensive. Of course hard negotiation with tour organisers is expected. Do take care though. We heard of someone who had a fatal accident in 2014 at Erg Chebbi and we also met a chap wearing a back brace because of an accident on one 3 months earlier. Just take it easy. The dunes may appear soft and gentle but land in an awkward position at high speed and you’re in trouble.
There are plenty of opportunities to hire sand/snow boards and sand skis around the populated dunes. It’s fun to do, once or twice, but there are no ski lifts so you have to walk back up the dune each time. To improve the ski’s performance rub candle wax on the base. Failing that, you could always use your shovel and a rope.
Sahara spa day
Who’d have thought one of the top things to do in the Sahara Desert would be to have a spa day? This is no average spa though! Merzouga locals swear by burying themselves up to their necks in the Sahara sand because it’s said to be good for muscles and aching limbs. In the heat of the summer, around the hottest point of mid-afternoon, you will find some locals burying themselves in the sand. They claim it rids the body of illness and in particular arthritis. Bear in mind, in the summer, ground temperatures can reach well above 50°c so it’s not a comfortable place to be for any period. Be warned though; do not bury yourself longer than 15 mins as it can cook you to death. Genuinely, we’ve heard of people this has happened to!
Join a convoy
We usually travel alone but meeting up with fellow overlanders and travelling in convoy can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Meet the locals
You’ll not have too much choice about this. You think you’re alone but the Berber people, fossil sellers and camel tour operators will find you! It’s a great chance to chat and gain an insight to the life of the people of the desert.
Sitting around the campfire
It may surprise you but there is plenty of dead wood to collect in the Sahara. Dead bushes make great kindling too and will really get the fire going quickly. Collect enough wood, build a fire pit, put your bbq grill over the glowing embers and get cooking! There’s nothing like it and you’ll never want to ping your ready-made meal in the microwave again!
It gets quite cold in the desert at night, especially during the winter months and a campfire is a great way to keep warm.
Top Tip: We’ve recently learnt that a shovel full of coals from the fire underneath your seat is a brilliant way to keep your bum warm!
After your campfire and evening meal, leave some leftovers near your camp and quietly wait to see if the local wildlife turn up for a midnight snack. Desert mice are most likely to appear first and if you’re lucky, a shy desert fox may come for a sniff. Try this over several nights and the fox will become braver and give you a good photo opportunity. If you’re really lucky, you may even spot one of the last Dorcas gazelles in Morocco. They’re said to be extinct but we know they’re not.
Of all the things to do in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, this is my personal favourite. With a million stars above you and no light pollution to speak of, the night sky over the Sahara Desert in Morocco will leave you in awe. When I’ve been travelling on the road for months on end, finding my own sand dune after dark and gazing at the night sky is just what I need! Personal space heaven!
Top tip: download one of the free stargazing apps to help you find constellations, planets and even the International Space Station.
Watch the sunset
Walk up the dunes at sunset or better still, before dawn to watch the dramatic and beautiful changing colour of the sand. Through the soundless peace and tranquillity, the kaleidoscope of colour will astound you and leave a life-long imprint on your memory. Of all the things to do in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, this experience will always, in some small way, beg you to return one day to this breathtaking landscape.
Don’t forget to pack…
Some loose fitting, long sleeve tops will save you from the heat of the day. The sun can get very hot and bare skin has a tenancy to burn. Cover up well and use plenty of suncream.
It may be tempting to walk around the dunes in your flip flops but do you know what’s hiding underneath the surface of the dune? Bring some decent walking shoes and protect your feet from hidden roots, discarded waste and if you’re (un)lucky, the occasional scorpion.
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